Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” or as it is often said, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
From an article on the Masters of Communcation web site:
In simple terms, empathy is the ability to understand things from another person’s perspective. It’s the ability to share someone else’s feelings and emotions and understand why they’re having those feelings.
Former President Barack Obama has said, “The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit. We are in great need of people being able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes.”
At the memorial service for the five police officers who lost their lives in Dallas in 2016, former President George W. Bush said, “At our best, we practice empathy, imagining ourselves in the lives and circumstances of others. This is the bridge across our nation’s deepest divisions.”
Sadly, those divisions President Bush talked about have only widened and deepened since he said those words. Empathy is something we need now, more than ever.
Listening to others, not making assumptions, and not jumping conclusions are important behaviors that help us become more empathetic. More from the Masters of Communcation article:
Listening to others is a very good way of developing empathy. When we take the time to listen to the things that other people are telling us it is an easy way of understanding how they think and feel.
Listening is best achieved when we set aside our own thoughts and opinions and carefully think about what another person is saying. We can also do a better job of listening when we set aside distractions like cell phones or tablets. When we give our undivided attention to others we will make them feel like they are cared for and it gives us an opportunity to truly understand their point of view.
…it’s far easier to trust or understand people who we think are like us. This type of thinking…may suppress compassionate empathy for those outside of our own communities. To challenge this type of thinking, it’s important to take the time to understand people who are different. To expand empathy, a person might have to challenge preconceived notions and biases and consider another person’s point of view. This can also be achieved by people widening their circle and becoming friends with people they might not ordinarily spend time with. They may be surprised to find that they have more in common than they first believed, and it is even more likely that they will broaden their ability for empathy.
That goes right to a concept I have written about several times before: Exposure Leads to Empathy.
I recently read about a study conducted over 25 years that showed that women’s relative earnings increase when their manager becomes the father of a daughter. These managers, after being exposed to females for whom they have unconditional love, seems to have changed their ability to put themselves in others’ shoes.
Whether it is with people of a different gender, a different skin color, a different sexual orientation, or differing views on political hot topics, the world is a better place we are empathetic.